Yet another public figure has had his reputation tarnished by plagiarism. The president of Hamilton College (Clinton, NY) has confessed that when greeting the incoming freshmen class, he used words first uttered by someone else. In this case, it was some phrases in a review of the book “Overnight Float.” The president apologized abjectly and then explained that in speeches he “only occasionally” uses the “systematic footnoting” required in scholarly works.
How absurd. As absurd as pillorying authors who didn’t alter phrases enough to meet some tastes but who cited the works in their footnotes.
I take it back. Asserting rights of possession over the wording of footnoted phrases — or of humiliating a college president because he didn’t put footnotes into a welcoming address — isn’t just absurd. It threatens to put up passport control points every ten feet in the landscape of ideas.
And doesn’t it seem obvious that this is being fueled by the rush to lock up intellectual property on the Net? We are able to exert such exquisite control over every phrase we utter digitally that the real world is looking intolerably sloppy. So we’re raising the stakes in the real world, and waving indignant fingers at people who demonstrably weren’t trying to get away with anything. If you want to see how the Internet is affecting expectations in the real world, look no further. Too bad in this case it’s the worst of the Net that’s having an effect.